Is humor a remedy for anger?


I recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona for a visit with a high school buddy that, save for a brief visit two years ago, I had not seen for fifty years.

What an experience that was – catching up with each other’ s lives covering a half of a century!

He had heard that I had become a psychologist, but  he had a little trouble wrapping his mind around how he thought I would be versus how he remembered me as a 17 year old adolescent. As old friends often do, we kidded around a lot as we reminisced, after which he asked, “‘How can you be a successful psychologist seeing people with serious problems when you kid around so much?”

The answer to that question is that appropriate humor is a valid therapeutic technique that can have much therapeutic value, even with people who have quite serious problems.

As Bill Cosby said: “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything – even poverty – you can survive it. “

Comic Bob Newhart (who played a television psychologist) said: “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.”

Actually, considerable research shows that humor is a powerful strategy to lower your stress level, dissolve anger and instantly give you new ways to view situations and thus new ways to respond. Often, mood is elevated just in the process of striving to find humor in difficult and frustrating situations. Laughing at ourselves and the situation helps reveal that small things are not the earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can make it seem less formidable and thus more solvable.

As we teach in our local anger management classes, as well as our online program, humor shifts the ways in which we can think and thus opens opportunities to be more “response-able” in dealing with whatever  is triggering our anger – without being overwhelmed by it. As Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman and activist) observed: “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”

Laughter can also help us release pent-up feelings of anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways; it also reduces tension because it is often followed by a state of relaxation.

So, give it a try.  If you are truly humor-challenged, here are some suggestions to improve:

  • Start collecting amusing (but tasteful) jokes that you can use to brighten the moment.
  • Take anger situations and flip them to see the funny side.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself; it shows you are secure about who you are and what you want.
  • Try seeing the situation from a different perspective